Searching for a God who, it seemed, did not especially want to be found, was not an easy task. Even with so much of the Earth still unsearched and waiting, Castiel was beginning to despair of ever finding his quarry. He knew that his Father was just and caring, he knew it, and so Castiel could not understand, with a cause as noble as his, why his Father would not present Himself in aid.
Returning from yet another unsuccessful trip searching the glories of Earth for a sign of God, Castiel noticed, on the edge of his perception, a flicker of celestial grace. He stopped and turned all of his attention to it. It was so powerful, so intense, he wondered if possibly . . .
Pinpointing the source was not difficult and Castiel located it without trouble. It was an abandoned warehouse of some kind, not at all what the angel would have anticipated for his Father's terrestrial hide-out. Castiel began poking around the dilapidated building, but the clear signal he had sensed before appeared to be gone.
Light suddenly blossomed around the room and Castiel, dismayed, noted the holy fire that encircled him. He slid his angel sword into his hand and prepared for an attack. Instead, he heard a voice.
Turning, Castiel felt the glow of grace return. Masked, he realized. A trap. “Lucifer - ” He stopped, gasped. “Your vessel . . . ”
“Oh, this?” Lucifer trailed a finger along the sores that spotted his temple. “It's not as bad as it looks, don't worry. Just a little sleight of hand.”
“You're doing it on purpose?” Castiel asked. That didn't make sense. “Why?”
Lucifer smiled. “That is for me to know. Now, you I lured here to do me a favour.”
“A favour.” Castiel's face hardened at the suggestion
“You are going to help me – ah ah ah!” Castiel, about to speak, closed his mouth. Lucifer smiled again. “Let me finish. You are going to help me find someone, little brother.”
Castiel suppressed his rage and forced himself to address the archangel civilly. “Who?”
“Isn't it obvious?” Lucifer asked. “The one who freed me, the one meant for me, my vessel.”
Sam woke up in his motel room and laid still, listening. Then he felt it: the movement that had woken him up, something (someone?) else on the bed beside him. Cautiously, he shifted around until he could see. His breath hitched.
“Hi, Sam,” Jess said. “I missed you.”
Jessica smiled at him and Sam's mind didn't know what to think. It was Jessica, just a few feet away, close enough for him to reach up and touch; she was wearing the nightgown that she had died in.
“Is this – what is this?” Sam asked. Jessica held out a hand and brushed a few strands of hair out of Sam's face. He grabbed her wrist. “What's going on?”
The smile took on a pitying look. “Just a dream, baby. Come here.”
She tugged on the wrist Sam was holding and Sam moved with it, sitting up in the bed and then, when she pulled again, shifting closer to her. She looked so real, exactly as he remembered her. He let go of her wrist and wrapped his arms around her; she felt exactly as he remembered, too. He bit back a sob. “I missed you, too.”
They sat there quietly for a moment with Jessica patting his hair and Sam relearning the feel of her body under his hands, her breath against his neck. Just sitting there it was like all the time between the mediocre hotel room and Stanford had melted away.
“What are you doing here all alone, baby? Why aren't you with your brother?” Jessica eventually asked, ruining the illusion.
Sam sighed and broke their embrace. “I can't keep hunting Jess, not after what I did. You don't understand what's happened since, since . . .”
“Since I died?”
The frankness made Sam squirm. “Yes. I needed to get out. Get – away. Before I made any more mistakes.”
“I understand more than you realize,” Jessica responded, reaching up to rub Sam's back. “But haven't you tried this before, running away? It didn't work last time, baby, why do you think it'll work this time?”
Sam closed his eyes and let himself lean into Jessica's touch. “It's different this time. Last time I was trying to be normal . . .”
“Oh, baby,” Jessica crooned, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “You knew even then, though, didn't you? That there was something dark inside you.”
“No, Jess - ” Sam twisted around in her grip so he could face her.
Jessica averted her gaze. “Baby, that's what got me killed.”
“Jess . . .”
“I was dead from the moment we met. This is what happens with you, Sam; the people closest to you die. Your life is always going to catch up with you.” She moved away from Sam and pulled her knees up to her chest. “You have to stop trying to be something different and just be who you are. Who you're meant to be.”
Sam thought back to the last year, when he was running around behind his brother's back with Ruby. He remembered the power he felt when he drank the demon blood, and all the people he was able to save with that power – and all the people he put in danger, using that power to inadvertently free Lucifer. “How do I know what I'm meant to be? How do I know I'm not making another mistake?”
The smile returned to Jessica's face. “You'll know, baby.”
Sam woke up in his motel, again. For real this time, he realized. He stared up at the ceiling and let himself bask in the memories of dream-Jessica's skin and scent and smile before pushing what she said to the back of his head and getting up to get ready for work.
Dean was getting ready for bed when he looked up from the motel room's sink and noticed, in the mirror, that Castiel was standing behind him. Dean, too tired from the day's hunt to be surprised, turned around to face the angel.
“How long have you been standing there?” he asked. “And c'mon, I thought we talked about personal space, about how people need it?”
Castiel retreated a few steps. “Apologies.”
“Yeah, yeah. How'd you find me, anyway?”
“I requested your location from Bobby,” Castiel explained. He surveyed the room quickly. “Where's Sam? I assumed he was with you.”
“Gone,” Dean said. Castiel's customary slight frown deepened, and Dean shrugged. “I don't know where he went, but he left. Again.”
“This is important,” Castiel insisted. “I had an encounter with Lucifer - ”
“Luci - ”
“ - and I need to speak with Sam.”
Dean looked tired, and not just from the day. “Well, I don't know where he is. He might call Bobby once he settles in wherever, if you think it can wait? How urgent is this?” Castiel looked frustrated, but Dean didn't have it in him to feel sympathetic at the moment. He was the one running interference on the apocalypse, after all, and his brother was the one who had left. “Is Sam going to be okay?”
“Sam will be fine,” said Castiel, “until I can find him.”
Dean turned back to the mirror and grabbed his toothbrush. “Well, good for him.” He squeezed some toothpaste onto the toothbrush, scrubbed his teeth for a few minutes, spit, and looked in the mirror. Castiel was still there. “What?”
“There is another issue,” Castiel said.
Dean rinsed his toothbrush then turned around. “Okay, what is it?”
“The archangel who smote you?” Dean didn't like the sound of that. “He going to start causing more trouble?”
“I think so,” Castiel agreed. “I have noticed some unusual angelic activity recently. I think Raphael is walking the Earth. If so, we need to track him down before he can interfere. If we face an archangel unprepared . . .”
“No, I think I get the idea.” Dean rubbed his eyes. “Well, that's just great.”
“I believe . . .”
Dean fixed Castiel with a stare. “What?”
“I believe I may have a plan.”
Sam was busing a table and very carefully keeping his attention on the task at hand, trying not to think about the dreams he'd been having. After the first dream, almost a week ago, he had dreamt about Jessica three more times, and it was always the same message: Sam was running away from who he was meant to be. If only, Sam mused, Jessica would tell him who that was. The last time he had embraced what he thought was his true self, he had been conned into releasing Lucifer from his cage and he ended up killing the woman he thought was helping him. But, when he'd tried to leave hunting altogether, his girlfriend had been killed by a demon. The people closest to you die. What path was he supposed to follow?
Realizing that he was obsessing over the dreams again, Sam refocused back on his work and tried to keep his mind off of Jessica. This early in the afternoon it was difficult; the bar was never very busy until later and there was little work to keep his mind occupied. He kept his head down, though, and tried to focus. If he was honest with himself, it didn't show signs of working any time soon.
Sam stilled, then reminded himself that no one in town knew his real name and that voice . . . wouldn't be the one that came for him, surely. He continued what he was doing, ignoring it.
“Sam,” the voice repeated.
Sam gave in and turned around. Standing a few feet away was Castiel, looking out of place among the other patrons, but determined.
“Cas,” Sam greeted. “How'd you find me? I thought the - ” He realized sharply that the bar was nowhere near full enough to keep them from being overheard. He gestured towards his ribs. “Uh, you know.”
“You called Bobby yesterday,” Castiel explained. “I asked him where you were.”
“Oh,” said Sam. He thought that explanation only raised more questions, but the middle of the room really wasn't the place for them. He glanced towards the bar; Lindsey was already eyeing them with curiosity. Sam weighed his options.
“You want to go talk in the back room?” he asked. He took the slight inclination of the angel's head as assent and moved towards the bar. He dropped the dishes from the table he'd been busing into the sink at one end of the back counter, then gave Lindsey a smile before pushing open the storeroom door.
As Castiel walked past him through the open door, Sam felt a brief chill, but it went away once the door was closed behind them both and they were alone. The room wasn't very big and most of the space was filled by boxes and shelves, but it was as private a spot as the bar provided.
“What are you doing here, Cas?”
“You have not been hunting,” Castiel answered.
Sam sighed. “Look, you and Dean and Bobby can handle it, okay?” The people closest to you die. “I'm a liability. It's better for everyone if I just stay out of it.”
Castiel's expression didn't change (unsurprisingly) but he took a step closer to Sam and Sam – startled – backed up. Dean was right about the personal space thing.
“You must rejoin the fight to stop the apocalypse, Sam.” Castiel was close enough to Sam that he had to look up slightly as he spoke. “We will try our best without you, but we will fail. You are our best hope.”
Shocked, Sam tried to retreat further and his back hit the door. Castiel moved with him.
Castiel canted his head to one side. “Have you been sleeping well, Sam?”
“Sleeping?” asked Sam, thrown by the non sequitur. “Uh, sure. Well enough.”
“Really? Your sleep hasn't been restless? No unusual dreams?”
Sam's heart clenched. “What the hell, Cas, you know what I've been dreaming about?”
The angel stepped out of Sam's personal space but continued to stare at him with the same intent gaze that Sam was used to seeing directed at his brother. “You let Lucifer out. You, not Dean or Bobby or me. We need you, Sam.”
Sam stepped away from the storeroom door, confused. “I don't understand.”
Instead of explaining, Castiel turned his head sharply and looked off to the left. All Sam could see in that direction was a shelf stocked with boxes of toiletries, but he could tell that the angel's attention was somewhere else. “I must go. I will return soon.” He turned his gaze back to Sam. “Consider my request.” A moment later the space in front of Sam was empty.
Castiel appeared next to Dean in the house they had chosen to use. The old house was dank and sparsely furnished, but it was both secluded and expendable and that was exactly what they needed.
“Have you finished the preparations?” Castiel asked.
“You said to finish quickly, I did.” Dean answered. “So when do you think ol' Teenage Mutant Ninja Angel is going to show up?”
Castiel frowned at the absurd nickname, but otherwise ignored it. “Raphael should be here soon. I came as soon as I sensed his presence - ”
As Castiel spoke the lights in the building flickered and died, and the air pressure in the room seemed to change. A voice came from behind them.
Dean and Castiel turned. Behind them the kitchen sparked with the energy Raphael allowed to flow out of his vessel, causing the atmosphere in the house to fluctuate. It gave Dean a headache.
“Raphael,” Castiel greeted the other angel.
“What is this?” Raphael asked. His eyes narrowed as he observed Castiel. “Why do you help this vessel attempt to stop everything we've worked for? God is dead and the apocalypse is now, I do not understand - ”
Dean interrupted the archangel's monologue, uninterested. “You know what else you don't understand?” He flicked his lighter and threw it at Raphael's feet. “We knew you were coming.”
The ring of holy oil that Dean had set up earlier that day ignited, surrounding the archangel with holy fire and trapping him where he stood. Raphael balked at the unexpected trap, then fixed Dean with an expression filled with rage.
“You dare trap me here?” he growled, voice low and threatening. “You are nothing but a pawn!”
Thunder cracked overhead and a sudden rainstorm battered the windows. Dean flinched as the one nearest him shattered and shards of glass bit into his skin.
“Dean, leave!” Castiel ordered.
Dean grabbed his bag and ran for the door, raising an arm to shield his face from more glass. When he got there, though, he turned around. “Cas, c'mon!”
Castiel waved him on. “Go! I will follow soon, just go!”
Swearing, Dean threw the door open and began fighting his way through the storm to the Impala. The two angels were left alone. Raphael turned his attention to Castiel.
“'Cas'?” The archangel was smirking.
“Good-bye, brother,” Castiel said, then turned his back and left.
The night after Castiel's unnerving visit to the bar Sam retired to bed confused and full of questions. He wasn't surprised, then, when he was woken up by a familiar hand rubbing his shoulder. He rolled over and smiled up at Jessica.
“I'm glad you're here tonight,” he told her. Jessica smiled at that so Sam sat up in the bed and she leaned over, placing a soft kiss on his lips.
“And why's that, baby? Did you miss me?”
Sam sighed. “I always miss you,” he admitted. “But today . . . Cas showed up at the bar.” Jessica rose her eyebrows in surprise. “Yeah. He . . . wants me to start hunting again.”
Jessica smiled. “Good. You should, baby, that's what I've been telling you.”
“Is it?” Sam leaned against the headboard. “You keep telling me to be who I'm meant to be, but am I really meant to be the person I become when I'm hunting? And with the apocalypse hanging over our heads, it's only going to get worse.”
“That's who you are,” Jessica insisted, scooting closer to him on the bed.
Sam shook his head. He looked at the woman beside him imploringly. “You're wrong, you have to be. I'm so, so sorry that you died, Jess, but I can't go back to being the person who released Lucifer. You can understand that, right?”
“Oh, baby,” Jess said, wrapping her arms around him. Sam closed his eyes at the touch. “I know it's hard. Destiny can be hard. But you're so close, can't you feel it? I just need you to say yes, Sam.”
Sam was about to tell Jessica that, no, he'd decided to refuse Castiel's request, when he realized that the hands holding him didn't feel like Jessica's anymore. His eyes snapped open and there, holding him . . . his blood ran cold. “Lucifer?”
“I knew you'd recognize me,” the man said, grinning. Sam pushed his way out of Lucifer's grip and scrambled backwards off of the bed, almost falling in his hurry to get as far away as possible. “Now Sam, you don't have to be like that! After all we've been through?” He changed his appearance back, briefly, to Jessica's, and Sam groaned.
“Why are you here? Haven't you ruined my life enough already?”
“Sam, Sam, Sam . . .” Lucifer said, getting up from the bed and advancing on Sam's position against the far wall. “You didn't think it was that simple, did you? You're the one who opened my cage! Not just anyone can do that, Sam. You're special.”
“I, I don't . . .”
Lucifer closed the last bit of distance between them and brushed a strand of hair out of Sam's face, like Jessica would. “You're the one Sam. You're my vessel.”
Bile rose up in Sam's throat. “No.”
“This is who you're meant to be.”
“That is never going to happen!” Sam shoved hard and Lucifer backed up just enough to let him escape. He stumbled back towards the bed but this was a dream, he knew, and there was no way to leave the room. When Sam turned around, Lucifer was still standing calmly next to the far wall.
“I know it's a lot to digest,” the Devil admitted. “What you've done, what you still have to do . . . it's so much to ask from one person. But there's no one else.”
“I will never say yes to you!”
Lucifer smiled pityingly. “Oh, Sam. Of course you will.”
Sam woke up panting.
“We cannot simply trap the Devil within a ring of holy fire,” Castiel protested. He and Dean were in Dean's motel room of the day, which looked like every other motel room Castiel had seen since meeting the Winchesters.
“Well, why not?” Dean asked. “We just stuck Raph in one and he looked pretty pissed; if you're suggesting he can get out of that thing then I think we have more than just the apocalypse to worry about.”
Castiel frowned. “A ring of fire is not inviolable. Raphael will be released eventually.”
That answer made Dean frown as well. “So we're going to have another freakin' archangel after us? Great. Fantastic.” Dean marched over to his bed and lifted his duffel bag off of the floor. After a few moments of rummaging through it he emerged with a bottle in hand. Unscrewing it and taking a sip, he turned back to the angel. “So, what's your plan, then?”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “You shot mine down, so what do you have?”
Castiel remained silent for several moments, during which Dean took a few more sips.
“I believe our only choice may be to . . . kill Lucifer,” said Castiel.
Dean choked on his booze. “Oh, is that all? And how do you – wait.” Dean looked Castiel in the eye. “I think I have an idea.”
Sam couldn't bring himself to go to work the day after Lucifer revealed himself. He couldn't bring himself to get out of bed, either, too horrified and disgusted by what would happen to him – and the world – if he let himself slip again. Most people would assume that releasing Lucifer into the world was a rock bottom sort of activity, and that was how it had felt to Sam when Ruby's betrayal had come to light; knowing that he had been manipulated so easily was a hard pill to swallow. Knowing he was still being manipulated scared him more than he wanted to admit.
So Sam stayed in his motel room, and tried not to fall asleep. Eventually it was going to happen, of course. He feared the worst; Lucifer, no longer hiding behind a familiar face, would torment Sam openly and weave arguments trying to convince Sam to say yes. Why not? He had already proven that he knew how to get under Sam's skin. But he didn't. Like most nights since Sam had moved into the little motel room and begun working at a bar instead of on the road, his dreams were normal.
Despite Lucifer's failure to reappear, Sam didn't fool himself; he knew the visitations would eventually continue. As long as Sam had Castiel's sigils branded on his ribs, no angel would be able to find out where he was, so his dreams were the only place where Lucifer could needle Sam into giving his consent. But Sam also knew that he couldn't wait out the apocalypse in his motel room, especially since he couldn't afford to keep it if he stopped working. So, deciding there was no point in waiting, he went back to the bar the next day.
Later, Sam would blame his state of mind for not noticing anything amiss. As it was, his thoughts were occupied elsewhere and he didn't look twice at the group of five people who walked into the bar only a few minutes after it opened for the day. They were just customers, and Sam and more important things to worry about.
Of course, it turned out that that wasn't actually true.
They made themselves dramatically known soon afterwards when Lindsey – the only other employee there at the time – stepped into the back room. Before Sam could react, the five customers, now alone with Sam, leapt into action; two blocked the doors while the other three surrounded Sam, but none approached close enough that Sam could engage them in hand to hand combat.
The one directly in front of Sam smirked, and let her eyes go black. Demons.
“What do you want?” Sam asked. He tried to look for something to use to fight off five demons without being too obvious about it, mentally kicking himself and wishing that he still kept a weapon on him.
The smirking demon laughed. “Oh, I think you know what we want, Winchester.”
“You'll have to go back to your boss empty-handed,” Sam said, “because I'm never going to say yes to him.” He clenched his fists. “I'll kill myself first.”
A demon rushed Sam from behind and grabbed a fistful of his hair. Before Sam could retaliate, the demon pushed him forward and bashed Sam's head down on the nearest table. The table was rickety and collapsed under Sam's weight when the demon released him.
“Our Father doesn't care what condition you're in when we bring you to Him,” the first demon said. Sam rolled off of the ruined table and pushed himself, slowly, back onto his feet. “The power of an archangel is . . . magnificent. Any injuries you obtain are easily within His power to heal.”
Before Sam had steadied himself, another demon came at him from his right and swiped his legs out from under him. Sam hit the ground hard, his breath knocked out of him and his head pounding.
It was a moment before Sam could open his eyes, but when he did he found the three demons who had surrounded him now standing over him. Their spokesperson's smirk seemed crueler from this angle.
“Even if you die,” she told him, “he'll simply bring you back.”
Demons lie, but Sam knew that this one was telling him the truth. There was no way out. There was no way out.
A loud thump interrupted Sam's bleak thoughts. The demons turned towards the noise and Sam could see them scowl at whatever they saw there.
“Don't just stand there, stop him!” snapped the smirking demon. Her two cronies darted away from Sam and soon Sam could hear the sounds of a fight on the far side of the room, near the door. He tried to turn over enough to see who the demons were fighting, but his remaining captor stood in his way.
He listened as the other four demons fought and fell. The smirking demon was worried, her fear increasing as her colleagues diminished. She grabbed Sam and tried to drag him away, attempting to escape with her quarry even if the rest of her group never made it back. That was when the trenchcoat swung into Sam's field of vision.
“Release him,” Castiel ordered the demon.
The smirking demon answered him with a swing of her fist, which Castiel caught. Sam missed most of the fight after the demon dropped him and his abused head once again hit the floor, but before long the smirking demon joined him on the ground and he knew who had won.
A gentle hand touched Sam's shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“I'm – they knocked me around a little,” Sam explained. “My head . . .”
The hand moved from Sam's shoulder to gently rest against the side of his head. A moment later the pain had softened to a dull throb and Sam felt considerably better. His head clear, he moved to stand up.
“Do not move too quickly,” Castiel warned. “My powers are not what they once were; you are still hurt.”
Sam stood anyway. “I'm well enough,” he said. “Look, thank you. Is Lindsey okay?”
Castiel nodded. “She is unconscious and unharmed.”
“Good, because we need to talk.” Sam looked around the bar, which was in complete shambles. Sam gestured for Castiel to follow him and then headed for the door. Once outside, he turned to the angel. Sam decided to put it bluntly. “You knew I was Lucifer's vessel, didn't you?”
“I did,” the angel admitted. “I thought to ease you into the knowledge, but obviously I waited too long; I'm sorry.”
“'Ease me into it'?” Sam snapped. “You said I was our best hope at beating the apocalypse, but I'm actually the key to Lucifer winning. What the hell?”
Castiel gazed at Sam intently, as if willing him to understand. “It is exactly your role as Lucifer's vessel that makes you so vital to our fight against the apocalypse, Sam. Without your consent, Lucifer will never gain his full strength and will be condemned to inevitable failure. If you stay here, ignorant, you will eventually be trapped, tortured, or manipulated into saying yes. We cannot win without you. We need you with us, Sam.”
Despite Sam's frustration at the situation, he could see that what Castiel said made sense. If he didn't know what was going on then he would only be a hindrance, and the people around him would become targets for those trying to manipulate him into saying yes – or would be collateral damage, like Lindsey who had been locked in the storeroom during the attack. She might have been killed, and it would have been because of Sam. The people closest to you die.
Sam took a deep breath, in and out. Back into the game, then. “Okay, I'll help stop the apocalypse. But how?”
“Dean and I have a plan that we believe will work.”
When it came down to it, finding the Colt was surprisingly easy. Finding Lucifer was easy, too, the city of Carthage lit up like a Christmas tree with demonic signs. Getting into Carthage was even easier, because there was no one there.
“This doesn't feel right,” Sam said. He and Dean had canvassed the eerily empty city and found the people of the city - those that were left, anyway – gathered in a park. As far as signs went, it was as good as X marking the spot; Lucifer was going to be there, and probably soon.
“Yeah, I don't like it either,” Dean admitted. “This has got trap written all over it.” He looked Sam in the eye. “Which is why you're going to stay here and I'm going to take the shot.”
Sam tensed. “I can't let you do that. Lucifer is my problem, Dean. My responsibility.”
“Yeah, exactly. And 'your problem' with him,” Dean responded, complete with finger quotes, “is that he wants to wear your ass like a prom dress. You're not showing your face in that clearing until that bastard is dead, you hear me?”
As much as Sam disliked the idea of sitting back while his brother took such a risk, the argument made sense. If they failed, Sam needed to be able to get away.
“. . . Fine,” he agreed. He unholstered the Colt and handed it over to Dean.
Their wait was brief.
When the Devil appeared, the two brothers split up. Sam retreated further back among the trees and out of Lucifer's sight, while Dean circled around the clearing with the opposite goal, trying to get closer. Sam quickly lost sight of Dean among the trees and was left alone, waiting to see what would happen.
The minutes passed excruciatingly slowly. Sam's mind began to work itself in circles.
The Colt would work, had to, it was their only plan. Castiel was the one who had told him about it, Sam reminded himself, and if Castiel thought it could work -
Sam caught sight of Dean on the other side of the clearing, at the edge of the trees. Lucifer and a crowd of demons were between them but Sam had been scanning the treeline for any sign of his brother and spotted him immediately. He held his breath as he watched Dean hold up the gun. He aimed carefully; they only had one chance. The Devil continued to talk but Sam was not paying attention.
The Colt fired.
Lucifer fell to the ground.
Then Lucifer got back up.
Lucifer got back up, and Sam could see Dean's panic, even from across the clearing, in the way his brother was not moving. He could feel the blood chill in his veins as Lucifer turned towards the place where Dean stood and he wanted to yell at Dean to run but knew he couldn't do that. It would do no good, anyway.
Sam wanted to close his eyes, but didn't. Lucifer approached Dean casually, moving slow enough that, if he had been a human, Dean could easily have outran him. When he finally reached Dean, Sam thought he could hear Lucifer say something, but it was done too quietly to reach Sam's ears.
Without warning, Lucifer struck. Dean flew through the air and hit a tree, hard. He landed on the ground and lay still.
Sam forced himself to not move; Lucifer was there, he was still right there. The archangel stood as if contemplating Dean's limp body, and even though the logical part of his brain told Sam that he was being irrational, Sam was terrified that Lucifer was planning on taking Dean. Or mutilating him. Or, at least, making sure he was very, very dead. But Lucifer was really just waiting for Sam's will to break. If Sam let himself run out to his brother now, Lucifer would know where he was and take him. Sam squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself still.
When Sam eventually opened his eyes (a minute later, an hour later, he didn't know) Lucifer was gone and the clearing was empty. Sam darted out from his cover and hoped that this was not just a ruse on Lucifer's part. He reached Dean without interference and dropped down beside him. He checked Dean's pulse at his neck and his wrist.
Sam took a deep breath to steady himself. He carefully checked to see if Dean was breathing.
Sam tried to take another deep breath, but it caught in his throat and turned into a broken sob. The people closest to you die. No, no, no, Dean couldn't die, not Dean. Sam knew he was panicking, but this wasn't supposed to happen and he didn't know what to do, had no idea how he was supposed to keep a level head when Dean was dead.
A hand touched his shoulder.
Sam flinched, certain the hand belonged to Lucifer and Dean's death had been a trap after all. Then a figure moved into his field of vision, and it wasn't the Devil at all.
“Cas?” Sam said.
The angel held his finger to his lips, warning Sam to be silent. If Sam hadn't been ambushed since reaching Dean's side then he was mostly confident that there was no one waiting to do so, but he shut his mouth anyway.
Castiel turned his gaze away from Sam and looked at Dean instead. Dean's body, Sam corrected himself. Dean was dead. Dean was dead because Sam agreed to this stupid plan. Sam looked away.
He turned back a moment later when he heard Castiel issue a low grunt. Castiel's face was screwed up in concentration and his hands were clenched around Dean's limp shoulders, and for a split second Sam didn't understand what was happening. Then he realized what Castiel was doing and his heart leapt into his throat; would Castiel still have enough power, could he really . . . ?
Sam stared down at his brother, waiting, hoping. Castiel relaxed his grip. He gave Sam a tired smile and his voice came in a whisper. “Dean will be fine.”
“Cas . . .” Sam leaned in a took his brother's pulse again; it was weak, but it was there. “Thank you.”
“You do not need to thank me, Sam.” The angel stood, swaying a little. “I think I have enough strength remaining to move us from this place. We should go.”
Sam nodded. A moment later, they were somewhere else.
Ideally they would have returned to the safest place they had – Bobby's house, with its warded panic room. Unfortunately that was too far for Dean, still weak, to travel, or Castiel, too drained from the healing, to transport them. They ended up in a motel room instead. Just another motel room, like all the others, but this one was several towns over from Carthage, and that was what they needed right now.
Sam watched his brother from the small table in one corner of the room. Despite Castiel's assurances that Dean would recover, the man had still not woken up. Sam couldn't shake the fear that Castiel's weakened powers had just not been enough, and that Dean was going to die from Lucifer's attack after all.
It was his fault, Sam knew, that Dean was in this mess. It had been his choice to listen to Ruby over Dean, releasing Lucifer from his cage in the first place. It had been his choice to return to Dean even though he knew he was a target, even though he knew that the people around him were in danger as long as Lucifer was after him. It had even been his choice to allow Dean to take the shot with the Colt. Sam should have taken that shot, even if he risked exposing himself for capture; Lucifer was his responsibility. That was just one more bad decision and it could have, without Castiel there to help, left Dean dead. Sam didn't know what he would have done if Castiel hadn't shown up.
Just as Sam's thoughts threatened to spiral even lower, a voice drew his attention outwards.
“I know what you are thinking, Sam.”
Sam dragged his eyes off of Dean and looked at the angel sitting in the other chair. “Yeah, Cas? What am I thinking?”
“You're blaming yourself,” said Castiel, simply. “You should not. This wasn't your fault. The plan could have worked.”
“But it didn't,” Sam snapped. He rubbed a hand over his face. “Isn't there something, anything, I can do that could stop this? I can't stand this, people getting hurt around me, all because I let Lucifer out. I need to stop the apocalypse, Cas, just me – without putting other people in the line of fire.” The people closest to you die.
Sam turned his attention back to Dean, expecting Castiel to say no. When the angel didn't say anything at all, though, Sam looked back at him.
“There is . . . one possibility.” Castiel spoke hesitantly. “You could allow Lucifer to possess you.”
Sam was shocked. “What? Cas -”
“I do not mean give up,” Castiel quickly continued. “But if you were to say yes, then could manage to wrest control of your body away from Lucifer . . .”
“. . . I could stop him,” Sam finished. “But wait, is that possible? For a vessel to regain control of his body?”
Castiel shrugged. “Perhaps. You would need to prepare, find some way to bolster your defences.”
“That could work!” Sam straightened up in his seat, focussed entirely on Castiel now. This was a plan that could work and, most importantly, one where other people would not be the ones putting themselves on the line.
Castiel, however, was frowning. “It may work,” Castiel emphasized. “It is extremely risky, and once you've regained control of your body, what will you do?”
“We could . . . find a way to reopen the cage,” Sam suggested.
“And trap you in there, along with Lucifer?” Castiel's frown deepened. “This is a worst-case scenario, Sam; I would have mentioned it earlier otherwise. Don't embrace it so easily.”
“But it could work!” Sam repeated. Dean almost died the first time one of their plans failed against Lucifer, and Sam wasn't looking to see that happen again. They needed one that would get rid of Lucifer once and for all.
“It could kill you!” Castiel insisted. “Perhaps I should not have brought the idea up at all.”
Sam looked over to where his brother laid motionless on the motel room bed, put there because of Sam. Because of what he did. The people closest to you die. He steeled his face and turned to Castiel. “I want to say yes.”
“It is reckless to make this decision now,” Castiel told him. “Please. I would give anything not to have you do this. Dean would never agree to this.”
“Listen to the angel, he knows what he's talking about. There is no way in hell I'm letting you say yes.”
Both Sam and Castiel turned to the bed. Dean had pushed himself up into a sitting position and was giving Sam a death glare that could wilt flowers.
“Don't you 'Dean' me, Sammy. You want to say yes? What kind of moron move is that?”
Sam shook his head. “No, Dean, this might be the only way to stop the apocalypse. If I could trap Lucifer in my body -”
“I said no!”
Sam turned to Castiel. “Cas, explain your plan to Dean.”
Dean's eyes narrowed and he glared at the angel. “It was your plan?” he asked.
“It is not a plan, not yet,” Castiel explained. “We would need to find a way for Sam to resist Lucifer's control, which may not even be possible, and then decide what to do once Lucifer is trapped -”
“It can work,” Sam insisted. “I'm the one that let Lucifer out of hell in the first place, and I need to be the one who makes it right.”
Dean, despite still being weakened, had worked his way out of bed and both brothers were standing. It looked like they were just moments from coming to blows over the argument. Castiel grabbed Sam's arm and tugged.
“Sam, look at me,” he said. Sam did, returning Castiel's gaze unwaveringly. “Think about what you're saying. If this plan worked, you could die. If not, you would be the Devil's vessel. Are you really willing to let Lucifer possess you?” Castiel asked.
Sam did not answer right away. Dean scowled at him and turned to find his duffel, frustrated enough to want to leave, but Sam didn't look at Dean. He just looked at Castiel.
There was a flash and when Dean could see again, Sam was gone and Cas was collapsed in the middle of the room.
“Cas? Cas?” Dean ran over to where Castiel lay crumpled on the ground and dropped to his knees. “Shit, Cas, don't be dead. I can't do this alone, man . . .”
Dean closed his eyes and sighed in relief when the body under his hands shifted. Castiel groaned and Dean hopped to his feet, pulling the angel up with him. They had to get somewhere properly warded, and fast.
“Not . . .”
Castiel's feet were unsteady, and Dean gripped his shoulders to stabilize him.
“Later, c'mon, we need to move - ”
“No,” Castiel grunted, pushing Dean's hands off of his shoulders. “I'm not Castiel.”
The bottom dropped out of Dean's stomach. “Jimmy?” The other man – not an angel, not Castiel – nodded. “Is - where's Cas?”
Jimmy wouldn't look at him. He stumbled out of Dean's personal space and looked left, right. “We, we should - ”
Jimmy still wouldn't look in Dean's direction, but he needed an answer because his brother had just given up and Dean and Castiel were it. Dean lunged forward and grabbed the collar of the stupid trenchcoat and shook roughly. “Goddammit, just say it!”
“You don't understand! I'm sorry, okay? I never should've, I didn't . . . Castiel died weeks ago.” Jimmy raised his gaze to Dean's, his eyes pleading. “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, please . . .”
The flames cast flickering shadows across the Morningstar's vessel.
“You are not taking Sam Winchester,” the little seraph told the archangel. “I'll die first.”
Lucifer canted his head to one side. “I suppose you will.”
He didn't even raise a hand. Suddenly Castiel just – wasn't there anymore. Jimmy blinked his eyes for the first time in so long, took a breath of his own volition. His arm prickled in the heat of the flames, so he scratched it.
When he looked upon the face of the Devil, it was smiling softly at him.
“Now, James, I have a proposition for you . . . ”